just a coincidence that George
W. Bush gave a speech announcing that the U.S. was leading
a "global democratic revolution" on the eve of Leon
Trotsky's birthday, but it is one that neatly illustrates
the militant revolutionism at the core of American foreign
policy in the post-9/11 era.
proximity to Trotsky's birthday was fortuitous, but the venue
of this revolutionary proclamation was not: it was a speech
commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the founding of
the National Endowment for Democracy
(NED), the brainchild
of neoconservative ideologues, many of whom have their roots
on the Trotskyite Left. Having given up the dream of revolutionary
socialism for the more practical project of global "democracy,"
little sect of neoconservatives, not so affectionately
known as "neocons," is at last having its moment in the sun.
NED was a sop thrown to the neocons during the Reagan administration,
so they could have a little domain of their own, a small but
strategically placed contingent of "Socialists for Reagan"
embedded deep in the bowels of the U.S. government. The first
President of the group, Carl Gershman, was a longtime
member of the Social Democrats, USA, formerly the Socialist
Party, a group dominated by the legendary Max Shachtman. The founder
camp" neo-Trotskyism, Shachtman broke with Trotsky in
the 1940s and evolved, over the years, into a firm supporter
of U.S. military intervention worldwide, while retaining –
like Sidney Hook –
his dedication to the "democratic" socialist cause.
advisors to the Lane Kirkland wing of the AFL-CIO, Shachtman
and his followers burrowed deep in the labor movement, and
lobbied extensively for the establishment of a government-subsidized
"quasi-private" foundation that would help them extend their
labor connections internationally, The effort bloomed in the
Carter years, when the two parties agreed to share in the
spoils, and bore fruit at the start of the Reagan years. The
legislation establishing the National Endowment for Democracy
mandated that most of its funding, at least initially, would
go to the Free
Trade Union Institute (FTUI), an arm of the AFL-CIO's
International Affairs Department.
from the subsidy, however, the benefits to the Shachtmanites
were also ideological: from their perch at the NED, they could
egg on the administration to confront the Soviet Union and
agitate for the prosecution of the cold war to the fullest
– all at taxpayers' expense. When the Soviet Union imploded,
however, so did the rationale for the NED – and it narrowly
escaped the budget ax. But post-9/11, the NED – along
with the neoconservative movement – was given a new lease
on life. Certainly George W. Bush's conversion to Shachtmanism,
as evidenced by his NED address, represents the apotheosis
of neocon dominance in Washington.
odd combination of Soviet-style phraseology with ostensibly
conservative rhetoric made for a speech of unsurpassed weirdness.
On the one hand, the President celebrated the victory of capitalism,
hailing the triumph of "democracy," "free enterprise," and
"markets," and yet somehow managed to do it the style of a
socialist orator out of the 1930s.
U.S., according to Bush, was no ordinary country, nor even
one especially blessed, but an "inspiration for oppressed
peoples," whose acolytes worldwide "knew of at least one place
a bright and hopeful land where freedom was valued and
secure" – kind of like the Soviet Union was to the Commies
of yesteryear. Here, too, are references to the necessity
for "sacrifice" – a favorite theme of the old Soviet rhetoricians
– including this Orwellian formulation:
definition, the success of freedom rests upon the choices
and the courage of free peoples, and upon their willingness
is, "by definition," slavery. War is peace. And Ignorance,
as we all know, is Strength.
speeches of the Soviet leaders, and their American imitators,
were always filled with new "turns," announcing the most recent
twist in the party line, and the Bush speech displays the
same grandiose tic:
reached another great turning point and the resolve we
show will shape the next stage of the world democratic movement."
as the leader of a "world movement" – the idea is positively
of revolutionary resolve, the U.S. must now focus on the Middle
East "for decades to come," said Bush. For some strange reason,
Mesopotamia does not yet share Montana's enthusiasm for democratic
governance, and this is impermissible:
the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of
liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned
by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone
never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in
the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every
person has the ability and the right to be free."
but as Frederick
Douglass put it, he
who would be free must strike the first blow. It is not
for us to say how or if the peoples of the Middle East will
find their way to freedom and, consequently, to prosperity.
Perhaps it is religion, and the willful pull of tradition,
that holds that whole region of the world back: but doesn't
freedom also include the freedom to say no to modernity? Oh,
but we mustn't say that, it's politically incorrect to even
imply that all peoples everywhere and at every time are something
more or less than multi-cultural clones of Homo Americanus:
skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam
are inhospitable to the representative government. This 'cultural
condescension,' as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history.
After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert
asserted that democracy in that former empire would 'never
of cultural condescension: Japan
had "democracy" long before World War II, with an elected
Diet, a figurehead monarch, and a relatively free expression
of Western liberal and even radical ideas. The assertion that
U.S. troops brought these alien concepts with them for the
first time and imposed them by force on reluctant Japanese
the idea that postwar Japanese democracy is an unqualified
success is certainly arguable, as Tokyo proves unable
to reform its entrenched bureaucracy and put its economic
house in order. Even the determined revolutionist Junichiro
Koizumi has only just managed to lurch
from one crisis to another: the land of the rising sun
may yet fall beneath a tsunami of bank debt. So much for the
virtues of Japanese democracy: Japan is still a society run
by consensus, where Western-style individualism is considered
a form of mental illness.
President applies this same mindless universalism to the problems
of the Middle East, which can all be solved if only we recognize
that, in the end, ideology must trump such reactionary vestiges
of the past as culture and religion:
should be clear to all that Islam the faith of one-fifth
of humanity is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic
progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries
in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and
Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India
and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of
the United States of America."
is democratic – except when the military decides that democracy
is bringing the country too close to the edge of an Islamic
revolution, in which case it reverts
to its roots as the prototypical Oriental despotism. Before
we set up Niger,
Leone as exemplars of the democratic progress, perhaps
it would be wiser to wait and see if they don't return – some
time tomorrow – to historic patterns of repression and civil
– a bastion of democracy?
Only if you consider – like many libertarians – that all governments,
democratic or otherwise, are the moral equivalent of little
more than gangsters.
are told that the Middle East needs to be "transformed" before
we can sleep safe in our beds at night. But if "more than
half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under
democratically constituted governments," as the President
averred, then what's the problem? These very same peoples
hate our guts, that's what, and democracy hasn't ameliorated
their hatred – only given it freer expression.
the President goes on to assert – wrongly, in my view – that
Islam is compatible with the Western concept of limited government
and individual rights, for some unexplained reason there seems
to be a "freedom deficit" prevalent in Muslim countries:
societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. These
are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are
the failures of political and economic doctrines."
political and economic doctrines cannot be understood except
as they relate to and are derived from cultural and especially
religious ideas. As Murray
N. Rothbard showed in his monumental "An
Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought,"
the development of economic ideas in the West – the varieties
of socialism, including Marxism, as well as capitalism – was
rooted in the religious and cultural trends prevalent in pre-industrial
Europe. The idea that political and economic doctrines are
something separate and aloof from the cultural traditions
of a given country or region, to be applied by social engineers
at gunpoint, is a grave error inherent in our "liberationist"
the Commie leaders of the past, who disdained the role and
power of religion, and were conscious enemies of tradition,
Bush sees himself as the instrument of History. All progress
is measured by the speed of his victories. He is shocked –
are governments that still fear and repress independent thought
and creativity, and private enterprise the human qualities
that make for a strong and successful societies."
and one of them is Israel – a country that systematically
steals Palestinian land, bulldozes
private homes and businesses, and won't even let its helots
from one city to another, let alone provide some outlet
for their "creativity." Billions
per year in U.S. aid pays for the systematic dehumanization
of an entire people at Israel's hands.
Israelis are not mentioned by the President, but he has plenty
of advice for the Palestinians:
the Palestinian people, the only path to independence and
dignity and progress is the path of democracy. And the Palestinian
leaders who block and undermine democratic reform, and feed
hatred and encourage violence are not leaders at all. They're
the main obstacles to peace, and to the success of the Palestinian
it really only Yasser Arafat who blocks and undermines "democratic
reform"? What does "democratic reform" mean in the context
of having your house
bulldozed, your shop destroyed,
trees uprooted and sold, your land stolen out from under
urging the adoption of democracy from Egypt to Saudi Arabia,
the President should be careful, for he may get what he wants:
the end result, however, will almost certainly not resemble
anything desirable from the American point of view. Democratic
elections in Algeria, held in 1991, led to a radical Islamist
victory at the polls, and the election was promptly cancelled.
A similar result would surely ensue if, today, Bush could
press a button and instantly implement his democratist panacea
throughout the region – thanks, in large part, to U.S. military
intervention in Iraq and our unconditional support to Israel.
President then turns his Olympian gaze on Iraq, praises the
Iraqi Governing Council – even as the U.S. contemplates plans
to ditch it – and rallies his fellow revolutionaries around
a long-term commitment of troops and treasure:
is a massive and difficult undertaking it is worth our
effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes.
The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around
the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish
the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will
succeed and that success will send forth the news, from
Damascus to Teheran that freedom can be the future of every
nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the
Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic
idea that we must wait for the democratization of the Middle
East before we can even begin to recapture the safety of the
pre-9/11 world is ludicrous. Do we really have to conquer
most of the rest of the earth before we can ensure our own
legitimate national security interests? This is precisely what
about the Soviet Union – that the revolution must spread,
to protect the "workers' state" from its implacable enemies.
The neocons are selling us the same sort of malarkey – using
the President as their mouthpiece – only this time packaged
as 100 percent Americanism.
may be the biggest of the many lies we've been told lately.
Nothing could be more anti-American than a policy of perpetual
war in the name of "peace." What emboldens – and creates –
terrorists is the neocon conceit that we can stage manage
the development of Iraqi society or any society. Such
a policy subverts our constitutional form of democracy at
home, and undermines our interests abroad.
great error of Marxism was the idea that liberal ends (the
withering away of the state) could be achieved by coercive
means (the "dictatorship
of the proletariat"). There was to be a "transition period"
of indeterminate length before the workers paradise could
be achieved, and Soviet workers were continually exhorted
to "sacrifice" so that they might "liberate" the "oppressed
peoples" abroad and usher in a new world order. If any of
this sounds familiar, it is because a Marxism of the Right has
won the day in Washington.
conservative economist and columnist Paul Craig Roberts,
an assistant secretary of the treasury in the early years
of the Reagan administration, calls our neocon policymakers
and he is entirely right to compare the neocons to that ruthless
and notoriously bloodthirsty faction of the French Revolution.
The name has become a synonym for revolutionary tyranny, a
dangerous perversion of the libertarian ideal into its complete
opposite. That is precisely the nature of the enemy we now
the case of the original Jacobins, their policies
quickly led to their
own undoing. Whether
we can hope the same fate will befall the neos, at least any
time soon, is a matter of some speculation that, lately,
seems almost likely. At any rate,
we can always hope.
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